Risk Reduction for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Methods of protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections range from abstaining to practicing safer sexual behaviors. Outlined below are a number of ways in which you can protect yourself from STIs.
What behaviors can transmit a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
We are really talking about several different behaviors here:
- Vaginal intercourse: the insertion of a man's penis into a woman's vagina.
- Anal intercourse: the insertion of a man's penis into another person's rectum/anus.
- Oral sex on a man: oral contact with a man's penis or testicles.
- Oral sex on a woman: oral contact with a woman's labia, vagina, clitoris.
- Hand contact to genitals or anus
- Mutual use of sex toys, vibrators, etc.
These sexual practices can all transmit an STI to an uninfected partner, in either direction. In other words, it is possible to become infected with an STI whether you are receiving or performing oral sex on anyone or if you are the insertive or receptive partner in either penetrative act of intercourse. Hand and mutual vibrator use can also transmit STIs.
What is safer sex?
The only absolute way to prevent STIs is abstinence. All other sexual practices have some level of risk. If you do choose to have sexual intercourse it is important to practice responsible sexual behavior, often referred to as 'safer sex'.
Again, we are talking about a series of behaviors that can lessen STI transmission:
Honest, open communication is a must these days for any kind of responsible (and enjoyable!) sexual experience. Not only do you find out about what risks you might have, you can also find out what your partner likes and dislikes, how they prefer to be touched, and where the limits of sexual expression are for a given encounter.
This clinically means engaging in sexual behavior exclusively with one person, after you've both either tested negative for all testable sexually transmitted infection or if both of you have never been sexually active before with anyone else.
Having several 'monogamous' sexual relationship over the course of a semester or a year - often known as serial monogamy - is not the same as clinical monogamy. A series of protected sexual experiences where a person has sexual behaviors with 'only one person at a time' carries more risk than clinical monogamy.
Clinical monogamy can give a level of intimacy and sexual pleasure and trust to a relationship that is difficult to find elsewhere.
Using male and female condoms
Using barrier protection every time you have oral, vaginal or anal sex is is the best protection currently available against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for sexually active people. While not 100% effective in prevention of all STIs, consistent barrier use does greatly lower risk for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, and HIV, and it reduces the risk of skin-to-skin transmission of STIs, such as herpes and HPV.
Wellness & Prevention Services (opens in a new tab) provides information on the use of safe sex supplies. They also coordinate the distribution of these safe sex supplies in various locations across the Appalachian campus.
Other Safer Sex Techniques
- Avoid sexual contact until you and your partner(s) have been tested for pre-existing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, be aware that only certain types of HPV (human papilloma virus) are detected by lab tests. Genital wart diagnosis is typically a "visual" diagnosis.
- Limit your number of sexual partners. Restricting your sexual activities to a committed relationship in which you and your partner make an agreement to be faithful sexually makes disease prevention sense.
- It is always best for partners to have open and honest communication about their past sexual history, but some studies indicate that some college men and women do not reveal everything about their sexual history. Also, your partner may not know the sexual history of their partners.
- Before you have sex, look closely for any signs of a sexually transmitted infection (STI): a rash, a sore, redness or discharge on your partner's genitals. If you notice anything unusual, refrain from any sexual contact and insist your partner(s) get a medical checkup. STI testing and treatment is available through M.S.Shook Student Health Service.
- If you or a partner was ever infected with a viral infection like herpes, HPV (genital warts), hepatitis B, or HIV, then avoid unprotected sex. Even if no symptoms are present, the virus is likely still there and can be transmitted.
- Get checked for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every time you have an annual health maintenance exam, especially if you have changed partners or if you have more than one partner. This is very important for women who often have no symptoms of STIs. The Center for Disease Control recommends that women 25 and under who are sexually active get tested yearly for STIs. If you have more than one partner, you should have a regular STI checkup one to two times a year.
- Sexual practices other than penis to vagina contact can also spread STIs. Use of other forms of barrier protection are also important. Hand to genital, hand to anus, mouth to genital, or mouth to anus sexual practices can spread any STI.
- Use of dental dams can prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections during oral sex. A dental dam is a small thin square of latex that you can use as a barrier on any surface you put your mouth on to keep your bodily fluids to yourself. (Latex free versions also exist.)
- Use of gloves or finger cots (finger condoms) can prevent transmission of STIs with hand to genital or hand to anal contact. They can be found online for purchase.
- Mutual use of sex toys, vibrators, etc. can transmit sexually transmitted infections from one partner to another. Best practices would be for each partner to have their own appliance to use. Not using a product for 24 hours after another person has used it will also reduce transmission issues. If a vibrator or other product is shared, it's best to clean the product between users.
- Most toys can be easily cleaned using an antibacterial sex toy cleaner. These cleaning products can typically be found in many adult stores. If specialized products are not available, you could also use mild unscented soap and warm water. Vibrators may be made our of different materials (silicone, plastic, etc.) Most manufacturers will include cleaning recommendations for each particular product in the package insert. If you no longer have the packaging, you can likely find guidance on the manufacturer's website for best ways to cleanse the product.
- It is important to know that HPV (human papilloma virus) has been shown to remain on toys and vibrators even after cleaning.
What if you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
- Testing and treatment is available at M.S. Shook Student Health Service.
- Notify your partner(s) so they can be evaluated and treated and will not infect or reinfect others.
- Refrain from sexual activity until you and your partner(s) have completed the entire treatment, even if your symptoms disappear before the treatment is finished.
- Talk with a healthcare provider at M.S. Shook Student Health Service about ways to reduce reoccurrences and minimize the risk of infection to future partners if you have an infection that is not curable.
Page content reviewed: 06/04/18 fwg